Save Florida Homes Inc. and its owner, Mark Guerette, have found foreclosed homes for several needy families here in Broward County, and his tenants could not be more pleased. Fabian Ferguson, his wife and two children now live a two-bedroom home they have transformed from damaged and abandoned to full and cozy.
Mark Guerette has claimed several homes in Broward County, hoping to gain permanent ownership after seven years.There is just one problem: Mr. Guerette is not the owner. Yet.
Guerette is counting on a Florida statute dating back to 1869 that says the properties will be his if left unclaimed for 7 years. The authorities don't see him as a hero for rescuing abandoned properties, repairing them, and renting them to folks who badly need homes. He's being charged with fraud, and will go to trial next month. The bizarre, entangled mess that US real estate has turned into, has resulted in similar cases around the country.
Mr. Guerette, who now faces up to 15 years in prison, insists that his business is legitimate and moral. He said he got started last year, driving around working-class neighborhoods in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, looking for a particular kind of home: not just those with overgrown lawns and broken windows, but houses with a large orange sticker from the county reading “public nuisance.”
So he set about fixing up the unclaimed properties. In some cases, he just mowed the lawn and replaced stolen air conditioners or broken windows; in other cases, like with Mr. Ferguson, he let tenants make improvements in lieu of rent.
He didn't try to deceive anyone:
Copies of leases show Mr. Guerette included an addendum noting that he was not the legal owner. Tenants like Mr. Ferguson and his family, who had been homeless before moving in last year and paying $289 a month, see Mr. Guerette as a savior.
The neighbors are generally happy, too. They'd prefer to have a family fixing up the premises over having an empty house being vandalized. It's hard not to see Mr. Guerette as something of a hero, since he's not exactly raking in the big bucks for doing this. Property values go up, taxes are paid - it seems like a winner for everyone.
Still, as Laura just pointed out, we are endlessly punitive to those at the bottom of the pyramid. The bankers and Wall St CEO's who stole the American dream from us will never get the punishment they deserve. Mark Guerette, on the other hand, will probably go to prison for trying to help families get the dream back.
cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org